Tuesday, September 4, 2012

When Artists Cook

It's that wonderful time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, when the long lazy summer days have done their work on the harvest garden.  Every other day I find a delicious delivery of fresh garden produce on my back door step, lovingly shared by my many neighbors and friends who's labors of love have yielded such bounty.

My own tomato plants have the promise of a few ripe fruits, but sadly only enough to count on one hand. There is so much to the art of the market garden and I am by no means an expert.  But because this artist loves to cook, I find myself happily drawn to natures harvest at this time of year.

When artists cook they love to use fresh produce, but at this time of year, it is always a battle between painting the produce, and cooking it.  The colors and flavors of a harvest table are irresistible, and for me there is no shortage of artful creation, both in the studio and in the kitchen.

Soups, sauces, and casseroles are the staple from now until Thanksgiving in my house.  An abundance of vegetables get thrown into my crock pot, day after day, peppered with fresh herbs and succulent meats. I rarely follow a receipe, I usually use whatever nature has delivered to me, and lately, that's been tomatoes!!

My neighbor, who is a master gardener with an AMAZING garden, tells me that the secret to enjoying garden-fresh produce at is very best, is knowing exactly when to harvest.  Some vegetables can stay in the ground for weeks until you're ready to eat them. But others have a short window of time when they yield peak flavor. That means that if you pick some vegetables too soon, they will not have had enough time to develop peak flavor or nutrition.

Tomatoes, for example, are best picked when they are between the 'semi-firm' and 'semi-soft' stages.  The fruit should be fully colored--brilliant gold, luscious pink, or bright red, depending on the type.  If you're approaching the frost and you have to get the fruit off the vine, then it's best to pick them a few days early and allow them to finish ripening indoors.  NEVER store tomatoes in the refrigerator, it turns their texture to mush.  It's best to store them in an open fruit bowl and eat them quickly or cook with them.

There are so many wonderful recipes for tomatoes, but I like the very simple ones. When I have an abundance of harvest fresh tomatoes, I love to make this simple tomato sauce.  It can be used in so many ways, I make up a huge batch then put it on pizza, in pasta sauces, soups, as a base for casseroles and stews, and even spread it on oven baked crusty bread with more fresh sliced tomatoes, crumbled goats cheese, and a sprinkle of fresh basil.

Harvest Fresh Tomato Sauce

6 Fresh Tomatoes
10 Fresh Basil Leaves
1 Teaspoon Sugar
1 Clove Garlic
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Balsamic Vinegar

Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C). Put the tomatoes on a baking tray and roast until the skins begin to blacken on all sides...turning. Peel away the blackened skins if desired.  Put the tomatoes in a food processor or blender with the basil, sugar, garlic, olive oil and vinegar.  Blend to form a thick sauce.  Add a little warm water to thin if desired.  Sauce will keep for 2-3 days in the fridge. 

If your short on time, you can freeze this recipe.  But it's sometimes best to freeze the fresh tomatoes then make up the sauce when you have more time.  Despite popular belief, frozen fresh tomatoes retain their flavor beautifully...but not their texture.  To freeze them fresh, I usually blanch, peel and slice them, then place them in a freezer bag...that's it!!

If you have any tips on canning, freezing, or cooking with fresh tomatoes, I'd love to hear them.

Thanks for checking in. xx

(P.S....loving the color red in The Artist's Playroom this week.)